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The Clouds | Parabasis 2 | Summary

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Summary

The Chorus Leader addresses the judges of the Dionysia competition who will vote for the winning play. If the judges vote in their favor, the Chorus will give them rain to plough their lands and will protect their crops. If anyone dishonors the Clouds as gods, the Chorus will strike their trees down with lightning, rain on their construction projects, and rain on their weddings.

Analysis

The Parabasis (Puh-RAB-uh-sis) is a choral ode in which the Chorus members remove their masks and speak, on behalf of the playwright, directly to the audience. The Chorus uses the Parabasis to criticize prominent Athenian citizens. The two Parabasis sections in The Clouds were revised after the play's first performance. The second Parabasis makes much more explicit threats than the first one. The imagery is violent and immediate. The Chorus promises "we'll let fire with our sling shots" and "we'll shatter roofing tiles."

Aristophanes uses these threats to satirize the relationship between Greek gods and mortals. Humans expected the gods to reward them for acts of respect and punish neglect and dishonor. Here Aristophanes suggests the (relatively insignificant) act of voting for or against his play is a way to please or anger the gods—another instance of creating humor by distorting proportion.

But to Athenians who have been at war for years, this Parabasis isn't so funny. The Greeks believed the gods controlled weather and livelihoods. The rise of the Sophists, and the decline of respect for the gods, gives mortal men more power—which doesn't always improve their fate. If the Clouds take on any form the perceiver wants them to, why can't Aristophanes use these goddesses to exact divine vengeance on his enemies? The ominous tone of Parabasis 2 foreshadows the play's ending, which won't be happy for anyone.

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